Content Marketing
How to Make the Most of Facebook Interest Targeting

How to Make the Most of Facebook Interest Targeting

April 6, 2016
6 min read

Targeting your audience on Facebook is the key to making your campaigns reach the right news feeds and generating ROI. Getting the right content in front of the right people at the right time means abandoning scattergun efforts, and as organic reach declines, marketers have found a new way to leverage audiences: we can use the data we have on them to offer them precisely targeted ad campaigns.

The Promise of Interest Targeting

Interest targeting lets you get your Facebook ads in front of people who are interested in them. That’s the premise, anyway. Instead of 1000 people seeing an ad only 200 of them could possibly care about, interest targeting lets you position your campaigns in front of 50 people, each of whom might actually buy from you. The more accurate your ads, the fewer instances you need and the less you have to pay.

Doing more with less and reaching the right people right out of the gate is the promise of interest targeting. But what if your interest targeting campaigns aren’t living up to that promise?

Broad Interest Targeting (Don’t!)

Broad interest targeting means using broad categories to target your ads. Think of it this way: “shoes” is an interest, and “Manolo Blahnik” is an interest – but the majority of those interested in shoes are probably not going to buy upscale women’s shoes, for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that many of them are going to be men.

Go broader and you’ll miss more widely: look for people interested in Shopping and Fashion and you’ll get people interested in Coupons, Discount Stores and even Toys. How many of those people are shopping for a new pair of Manolos, today or any time soon?

Facebook’s own guide to broad interest targeting addresses this issue:

The broad category approach will clog up your system with low-connection fans – they’re not really interested in what you do at all and they’ll never do a thing for your bottom line.

The Depth of Interest Targeting

Facebook allows you to zero in on people who are genuinely interested in the same things as you. And they have made it possible to search through a bewilderingly large array of categories, releasing what they say might not even be their entire dataset in January this year. Formulated by algorithm from popular Facebook open graph pages, Facebook Ad tags and other sources, there are more than 282,000 categories to choose from.

But has that made marketers’ lives easier?

Not really. Many of these categories are vague, and since they’ve often been created by text scraping they’re frequently misleading. Some of them are also downright crazy – Arson and Dogfighting, for instance. (Facebook lets you report categories for being inappropriate, in effect letting its users clear up the most egregious errors from its dataset, so those two might be gone by the time you read this.)

More important is the fact that these categories are often still not specific enough to allow marketers to draw a bead on their target audience with any kind of accuracy.

Other Targeting Options

Interest targeting works best when it’s combined with the other mechanisms Facebook offers for analyzing and isolating your audience.

One option to increase the accuracy of your results is to combine category search with Purchase Behaviors. Now you can isolate audience members who are interested in Shopping and Fashion and drill down into buyer profiles that deliver a lot more detail – and thus a greater likelihood that you’re going to get a good match.

Another is to use Life Event markers. If you can find an audience member who has an interest in Shopping and Fashion and just got a new job, she’s more likely to be in the market for shoes than someone who’s just had a baby, for instance.

Experiment – Facebook offers a huge range of life event markers, so figure out which ones work for your brand and audience.

Custom Audiences

Facebook Custom Audiences is a feature that allows you to connect with your existing customers on Facebook. That’s a double advantage: you can offer your existing customers targeted upselling, cross selling and reengagement, but you can also exclude them from some offers. See this example from Buffer:

With a Custom Audience campaign, Buffer could run a similar campaign choosing to omit their newsletter subscribers instead of people who liked their page.

Showing your existing customers an ad for a free trial on a product they’re already using isn’t just a waste of ad dollars – it’s a wasted chance to show your audience individualized, targeted ads that show them you know who they are. That’s a big deal: spray and pray approaches don’t just produce lower ROI, they turn people off your brand. Maybe that’s why 94% of companies feel that personalization is critical to current and future success?

Matching Targeting to Your Core Audience

If the best customers to market to are the ones you already have, the best people to reach out to on social media are the fans you already have. It makes sense to optimize your message to them. But how much do you really know about them? Audience Insights helps you to learn about the behavior and interests of the people who interact with your brand.

To use it, go to Ads Manager and click on Audience Insights. Then you’ll be asked to select an audience to compare against; go with “People connected to your page.” Facebook will show you your audience and let you click through multiple categories that will segment that audience by Demographics, Location, Purchase, Household and a whole lot more. This should enable you to both draw a bead on your current fans and identify potential new ones.

Find Your Audience Yourself with Graph Search

You can do some of your own audience finding by using Facebook’s Graph Search to identify people who like your competitors or other operators in your space. Marcus Ho wrote a post with good examples on Search Engine Journal on how to do this. Use “Pages liked by people who like PAGE NAME” to find other Facebook pages that are often liked by fans of the name you’re searching. That gives you a clearer idea of your audience composition than trawling through those 282,000 categories looking for the right fit.

A caveat: if the brands or competitors you’re mining have bought fake fans or gained them through poorly targeted campaigns, your money is going down the drain.

The solution is to do your own refining through intersectional searching here – pick audience members by two or more key pieces of information. For instance, you could try “people who liked PAGE NAME and OTHER PAGE NAME” to identify and vet an audience that’s interested in the right specific area. The tighter and more multivariate your Graph Search, the more accurate and useful the resulting data will be.

The API “and” Logic Operator

Facebook’s advanced interest targeting lets you locate interested audience members based on an “and” logic operator. We’ve looked at ways to isolate specific audience segments based on behavior or interests; with each additional operator, each “likes X,” we get fewer responses. Facebook’ standard system lets you use “or” but not “and.” Use API and search for audiences that have indicated interest in multiple relevant categories.

How is that different from using the intersectional targeting I talked about above? Because you can only target fans who’ve liked several pages, not whose interests are multiple and intersectional. The API lets you locate fans by multiple categories, not multiple page likes, leading to more accurate profiling.

Note: Facebook is now testing a new feature called Detailed Targeting that does allow you to target two sets of interests via the Power Editor.

No guarantees, but you can request access from friendly Facebook agents over Live Chat on their help center for advertisers.

Check Out the Competition

Targeting your competitors lets you see what they’re up to – and take advantage of some of their discoveries. More importantly, their audience is already interested in a provision like yours – that’s why they’re a competitor’s audience. So getting your offering in front of them might allow you to poach some of the competition’s customers.

This is a common practice among AdWords PPC advertisers. But on Facebook, there are no keywords to chase and the platform isn’t too keen to let people poach; it won’t show you your competitors’ audiences directly.

The simple way to do this would be to search for fans of your competitors’ pages, but Facebook won’t let you do that. The sneaky way is to use Interest Targeting and make your competitor the interest you’re targeting.

You’ll have to do some trial-and-error testing to find out how to find your competitor: start with keywords that might represent your competitor, beginning with their web address, in the Detailed Targeting search box. If you find them that way, congrats. If not, try other keywords.

Remember if you can’t find your competitors’ audience, there’s a good chance it’s because there’s nothing to find. If they don’t have much of a Facebook audience you can’t target it – but that makes it more likely that you have unopposed access to the Facebook users who could be interested in your offering.

That’s a Wrap

Next time you’re building a targeted campaign on Facebook, leverage the power of interest targeting to zoom in on your audience and address them accurately. Don’t forget to:

  • Mine Graph Search for a better understanding of your audience’s likes and interests than Interest Targeting alone will deliver.
  • Combine Audience Insights and Custom Audiences for data that allow more precise targeting.
  • Keep building more precise, detailed pictures of your audience’s interests.

Image sources: 1, 2, 5

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Rohan Ayyar

Rohan is the Regional Marketing Manager for India at SEMrush. He is an experienced digital marketer who has worked both agency and in-house, developing data-driven strategies for SEO, PPC, social media and content marketing. Rohan is also an avid business and tech blogger, with insights featured on publications like Fast Company, Business World, Search Engine Journal and Adweek.